Abu Dhabi company to turn UAE’s landfill waste into plywood replacement

Published on April 24, 2023

As more companies in the UAE look to offer innovative solutions to help tackle climate change, one organisation in Abu Dhabi is aiming to transform the construction and events industry by turning landfill waste into a replacement for plywood.

Terrax, which is owned by husband-and-wife duo Theresa and David Wernery, along with their partner Cameron Cairns, is bringing technology from Brazil to the warehouses of Mussaffah in a bid to offer a more sustainable solution to developers and contractors.

Construction plywood has a heavy toll on the environment, the company says on its website.

The process of harvesting and manufacturing causes air and water pollution, while shipping it to the UAE, where it is not made locally, is expensive and environmentally unfriendly. In many parts of the world, deforestation also has to happen in order to create the product.

“It’s used a lot in construction and events for stand building,” Ms Wernery told The National.

“For events, it’s single-use. In construction, it’s used for concrete pouring. You can generally use it six to 12 times maximum and then it goes to a landfill.”

“You can buy good quality forestry-certified plywood but most construction companies don’t. Standard plywood often comes from unsustainable sources.”

A trial for Terrax's concrete shuttering product. Photo: Terrax
A trial for Terrax’s concrete shuttering product. Photo: Terrax 

Once they realised this, the trio — who also have a company that manufactures recycled flooring tiles that were used across the Expo 2020 Dubai site — set about looking for a solution. In their search, they came upon a father-and-son team in southern Brazil who have been using a technology since 2006 that utilises unwashed and unsegregated waste that can be extruded into all manner of products.

“It can make boards, replacing plywood boards, but you can also do plastic composite stuff like decking, pergolas and cladding,” Ms Wernery explained.

They will also make formwork and shuttering products for the construction industry, as well as hoarding, fencing, pallets, countertops and more.

“It’s a really interesting technology because the waste doesn’t need to be washed, which is important for this part of the world,” she said.

Another plus point is that the plywood replacement product has more than 100 uses.

The waste used in the machine that is due to arrive in the UAE in September, would otherwise go straight to a landfill.

Waste is fed into the machine to be turned into plywood replacement and other products. Photo: Terrax
Waste is fed into the machine to be turned into plywood replacement and other products. Photo: Terrax 

“We don’t want to use any good plastics — the good stuff that can be recycled and ought to be. Our input material will be like Tetra Pak [plasticised cartons for milk and other liquids], which can’t be recycled here in the UAE. Or carpet waste, which is generally not easily recycled globally,” she said.

They also use fibreglass, multi-layer packaging, films, crisp packets and other non-recyclable items and materials, she said. To source it all, they’ll work with waste management companies across the country.

While Ms Wernery is confident in the product, she said the company has faced hurdles in terms of suppliers understanding the benefits, while the lack of producer responsibility legislation is an added challenge.

On the other hand, she said, they need to be competitive against suppliers of normal plywood.

“It’s not a bad thing in many ways. It makes you lean, makes you look at your business, price sensitivity is a big thing,” she said.

Master developers such as Emaar and Aldar, too, are pushing their construction companies in the right direction, and trial runs in the UAE have so far been successful, she added.

The journey to get to this point has taken time and, along the way, the team self-funded using income from their existing business. But it’s worth it, said Ms Wernery.

“To solve these problems we need solutions, scalable solutions, physical hardware, otherwise we can’t process waste,” she said.

“It’s a physical by-product of our existence and as long as we produce the volumes we produce here, there needs to be a physical solution.”

Source: Katy Gillett, The National